PPACA keeping tax preparers busyNews added by Benefits Pro on April 16, 2014
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By Kathryn Mayer

Tax day is here — and it’s especially busy because of Obamacare.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — and questions surrounding its impact — is giving tax advisors and preparers a new role as health care advisors.

They’ve been answering questions, hosting seminars on PPACA tax issues and helping people apply for tax credits that help offset the cost of health insurance. They’re also helping consumers understand the penalty for not having insurance under the law.

The amount of extra help isn’t surprising given the continued confusion over the law, experts say. Polls have found that consumers are unaware of PPACA deadlines, how to qualify and apply for subsidies under the law, and, more simply, what the law means for them.

On Jackson Hewitt’s website, for example, it reads “Healthcare could affect your refund. We’ll help you sort it out.” Their site maps out what PPACA means for individuals, families and organizations, while offering resources, including reports and FAQs, on the law.

Earlier this year, a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation suggested tax time could boost PPACA enrollment, saying preparers could be a key source of assistance for the millions of uninsured consumers.
“As people file their income taxes, tax preparers may be able to help enroll those who are eligible for marketplace plans,” said Kathy Hempstead, who leads coverage issues at the foundation.

Jackson Hewitt makes sure to note that, consistent with state law, they don’t provide advice about the selection of qualified health plans and “instead refer such queries to a properly licensed third-party or to the insurance marketplace.”

Jackson Hewitt has, though, has been working with GetInsured to help get consumers enrolled to avoid a penalty under the law.

“Our goal is to help uninsured individuals to avoid the tax penalty next year,” Brian Haile, senior vice president, health care policy, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, said last month. “We can help customers finish the application for the new ACA programs in just five or six minutes after we do their taxes.”

Though open enrollment closed March 31, the administration announced at the end of the month it would give consumers more time to complete commercial coverage applications in the states where it runs the public exchange programs. The administration made a special enrollment period available to consumers who start the individual plan application process by March 31 but failed to complete it.

Up until mid-April, a consumer can ask for the application time extension by checking a box on HealthCare.gov.

“The tax filing moment is an ideal time for consumers to apply for coverage because they have all of the information that they need — and they’re about to get their tax refund, which they can use to pay initial premiums,” said Chini Krishnan, CEO and co-founder of GetInsured.

Similarly, H&R Block has teamed up with GoHealth while TurboTax is working with e-Health on helping consumers enroll in health coverage.

Among the top questions H&R Block says it’s received from consumers is about health care — how to sign up for it and how to note it on the tax return. But that’s a popular misconception as consumers don’t have to indicate they have health insurance when filling out their 2013 tax return.

“This is because the tax return taxpayers are filling out now is a record of what happened in 2013; proving they had health insurance in 2014 will be done on the return they fill out next year,” the company said. “Open enrollment through the marketplaces ends March 31, which is the deadline to sign up through the federal or state marketplaces. In addition, it’s also the deadline to avoid any potential penalty for not having health insurance.”

Next year will be an even bigger year for tax preparers, as consumers will have to prove on their tax return they had health insurance in 2014

Originally published on BenefitsPro.com
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